OUTER CAPE PORTRAIT / The Rookies
EMMA DOYLE, SONYA WOODMAN & JORDAN RENZI / WILD PICKERS / WELLFLEET
Emma (yoga teacher, writer & surfer)
Shellfish harvesters is what we call ourselves. Some people say wild pickers, but if you don’t understand the world of aquaculture at all, then wild pickers just sounds really bizarre.
One of my dear friends and I taught surf lessons together, and for years, he kept nudging me very gently, saying “You should come out, I think you’d really like oystering.” I started doing it, and I love it.
So, I went out with friends who had been picking for a while, just to learn safety, where sinkholes were, where not to walk. There’s a black mud in Wellfleet Harbor that’s really sticky. You can get stuck pretty easily, so you need to learn how to twist your boot a certain way to not get stuck by yourself, and how to keep your phone battery alive, so if you do get stuck, you can call someone. And then it’s just going out and getting experience of really just developing the eyes for oysters, and the eyes for the right kind of oysters, the right size.
I’d say the hardest condition to go out in is a combination of temperature and wind: when it’s 29 degrees and a brutal north wind that feels really raw on your skin and can kind of just hit you down to the bones. But that’s also part of it. I don’t think there’s any activity that anybody loves or does where there isn’t a harsher, more brutal side that balances out all of the wonderful qualities that it brings to the table.
To live by the tide is to live by the moon is to live by Mother Nature. And though it can cause an erratic schedule, there’s something really unique to being a part of this community, where you are the only people up at 4 am in January, standing outside in the water, waist deep. Even though we are all very solitary and picking off by ourselves, there’s a kinship not only with each other as humans, but with the ocean and with what she can provide for us.
Sonya (mother, artist, hospitality worker & surfer)
Working out there is definitely solitary. When I first began, I would try to buddy up with people to fish, but you do enjoy finding shellfish on your own, making your own calculations on where to be, and making your own discoveries.
I do find there are really nice oysters in deeper water areas, so I tend to gravitate toward those areas to get beautiful oysters. If I find a spot, I might actually be sitting in the water and kind of feeling around, or even just scooping oysters up like people would do with a rake. I feel like a kid sometimes, I guess, when I get working.
Living by the tide definitely keeps you really in touch with all the rhythms of Mother Nature. I think you watch time pass in a different way, because you actually see that time passing with water. I find myself not having a watch on, but knowing what time it is within a few minutes.
I’m a mushroom forager, an acrylic painter. I’m a surfer as well. Being a mother, shell fishing is helpful, because it just separates me from this life of providing for people all the time. I also work in hospitality, so a lot of my life is spent helping other people get what they need. And it’s just nice to be out there and not speak to anyone, and not have anyone need anything from me for just a few hours. Be myself and just have peace.
I started wild picking last January, right around when Sonya did. Being out there by yourself and facing the elements on your own, it felt like a bold, and sort of scary, and brave thing to do. I just wanted to give it a try.
I feel connected, as a result of my life being dictated by the tide. There’s something very grounding and calming and meditative. It makes me feel like I’m connected to what is important and what’s real.
I am a musician. I sing all the time, yeah. I sing in my car. I sing in the shower. I sing when I shouldn’t be singing, when I should be listening to someone. So, yes, I do sing out there.
It will be interesting to see how the crop is next year. A lot depends on what kind of ice we have in the winter. I think after you do it for several years, you probably have a better grip on the whole thing. I feel a little bit less green than last year, but you know things are always changing out there. I do still feel green, yeah.